November 5, 2013

Ex-NFL player with elite college degree describes being bullying target

Isaiah Kacyvenski said he wasn’t surprised by the alleged harassment that led former Stanford star Jonathan Martin to leave the Miami Dolphins.

By Erik Matuszewski And Aaron Kuriloff
Bloomberg News

NEW YORK — A degree from an elite academic school can make a player a magnet for bullying from teammates in the National Football League, according to a former Harvard University linebacker who spent seven seasons in the NFL.

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Seattle Seahawks linebacker Isaiah Kacyvenski (58) stretches during warmups at training camp in Cheney, Wash., in 2005. The Harvard-educated Kacyvenski said he isn’t surprised by recent allegations of teammates harassing others in the NFL.

2005 Associated Press File Photo

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Isaiah Kacyvenski, who last played in the NFL in 2006, said he wasn’t surprised by the alleged harassment that led former Stanford University offensive lineman Jonathan Martin to leave the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins two days ago suspended fellow lineman Richie Incognito for detrimental conduct as they and the NFL investigate the matter.

“I’m surprised it hasn’t happened sooner,” said Kacyvenski, who holds a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard and now directs sports business at the biomedical technology company MC10 Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. “This is a wakeup call for a lot of people. I was made fun of for a lot of reasons. Only in the NFL can a Harvard degree have negative consequences.”

Kacyvenski, 36, played six of his seven seasons with the Seattle Seahawks. He said some teammates thought he was a “rich, pampered kid” when he entered the NFL and that he did whatever he could to avoid confirming a “preconceived notion of what a Harvard grad was.”

Even so, he didn’t fit the NFL mold and would often anger teammates by raising his hand during team meetings to ask questions about the way things were being done and the reasoning behind them, he said in a telephone interview.

“In the NFL, if you don’t do things the way other people do, you stick out, you make yourself a target for ridicule,” Kacyvenski said. “Every day’s the same, so it’s, ‘Let’s find a way to entertain ourselves,’ sometimes at the expense of others. Having someone be the butt of jokes has been around for a long time. It’s like a cancer that eats away at your team.”

The NFL Players Association said this week in a statement that it expects the NFL and its clubs to “create a safe and professional workplace” for players.

“As the representative organization of all players, the NFLPA will insist on a fair investigation for all involved,” the union said in the statement. “We will continue to remain in contact with the impacted players, their representatives and player leadership.”

Former Green Bay Packers executive Andrew Brandt, who’s now a business analyst for ESPN, said it’s a myth that NFL teams are a united group of 60 players, and that “jocularity or hazing” happens in every locker room.

“It’s really little pockets of guys who are tight and I would hesitate to say any pocket is more close than offensive linemen,” Brandt said in a telephone interview. “It’s as close to a fraternity as any component of the team, which is why this is more shocking to me.”

Incognito, 30, asked Martin, 24, to contribute financially last summer to an unofficial team trip to Las Vegas, and in April left him an expletive-filled voice message that contained a racial slur and threats of physical violence, according to ESPN. Martin, who didn’t go with his teammates to Las Vegas, gave Incognito $15,000, the report said, citing unidentified people familiar with the situation.

The 6-foot-5, 312-pound Martin left the team on Oct. 28 after the other offensive linemen stood up and walked away from the lunch table in the Dolphins’ practice facility when Martin arrived and sat down with his food, said.

Martin is in his second season with the Dolphins after being taken in the second round of the 2012 draft from Stanford, where he majored in Classical Studies. Martin’s parents both graduated from Harvard.

(Continued on page 2)

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